Reigning Walter Payton Award winner Cole Kelley of Southeastern Louisiana will face stiff competition this fall in the race for the Heisman of the FCS.

Kelley led a preseason watch list of 35 players that was announced on Wednesday for the 2021 Payton, which Stats Perform presents to the national offensive player of the year in college football’s Division I subdivision.

The 6-foot-7, 260-pound Kelley was at or near the top of the FCS in a number of statistical categories, including a No. 1 ranking in passing yards and total touchdowns, when he received the Payton following the FCS spring season.

Runner-up Eric Barriere of Eastern Washington and third-place finisher Julius Chestnut of Sacred Heart also are part of the impressive preseason watch list, which is as follows:


Eric Barriere, Eastern Washington (2019 and 2020-21 finalist)

Juwan Carter, Norfolk State

Jack Cook, Dayton

Zerrick Cooper, Jacksonville State (2019 finalist)

Tim DeMorat, Fordham (2020-21 finalist)

Draylen Ellis, Austin Peay

Aqeel Glass, Alabama A&M (2020-21 finalist)

Felix Harper, Alcorn State (2019 finalist)

Cole Kelley, Southeastern Louisiana (2020-21 recipient)

E.J. Perry, Brown

Eric Schmid, Sam Houston

Breylin Smith, Central Arkansas

Daniel Smith, Villanova (2019 finalist)

Cameron Ward, UIW

Liam Welch, Samford (2020-21 finalist)

Running Backs

Percy Agyei-Obese, James Madison (2020-21 finalist)

Julius Chestnut, Sacred Heart (2019 and 2020-21 finalist)

Josh Davis, Weber State

Elijah Dotson, Sacramento State

Juwon Farri, Monmouth (2020-21 finalist)

Geno Hess, Southeast Missouri

Quay Holmes, ETSU (2020-21 finalist)

Dejoun Lee, Delaware (2020-21 finalist)

Jah-Maine Martin,North Carolina A&T (2019 finalist)

Karl Mofor, Albany

Pierre Strong Jr., South Dakota State (2020-21 finalist)

Otis Weah, North Dakota (2020-21 finalist)

Devin Wynn, Furman

Wide Receivers

Samuel Akem, Montana

Avante Cox, Southern Illinois

Dai’Jean Dixon, Nicholls

Jequez Ezzard, Sam Houston

Jakob Herres, VMI (2020-21 finalist)

Tyler Hudson, Central Arkansas (2020-21 finalist)

Christian Watson, North Dakota State

More players can join the watch list during the regular season, and a national media panel will select the winner following it.  First awarded in 1987, the Payton has watched past winners such as Steve McNair, Tony Romo, Brian Westbrook, Jimmy Garoppolo, Cooper Kupp and Trey Lance move on to the NFL.

Also this season, Stats Perform will present the Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year), Eddie Robinson Award (FCS coach of the year) and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year.